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    Attack of the Android smartphone models

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2010 First published in Business in Vancouver September 14 - 20, 2010 issue #1090

    High Tech Office column

    From its 1984 release through to the mid-1990s, Apple’s Macintosh computer platform was clearly superior to Microsoft’s graphical computing alternative, Windows.

    Users, though, could get Windows on computers from a range of manufacturers at a range of price points and styles. The Mac, just from Apple, was limited to relatively few models.

    Fast-forward to today. Google’s Android smartphone operating system is coming on strong as the competition to Apple’s iPhone. Like Microsoft Windows in the mid-1990s, it powers hardware from a range of manufacturers.

    And in the U.S., at least, sales of Android models have recently passed both iPhone and BlackBerry.

    While the Android operating system remains less slick than Apple’s iOS, it’s maturing quickly. And with hardware being developed by multiple manufacturers, there’s a growing range of models available in a variety of styles – some with built-in keyboards, others that are touchscreen only.

    Take Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 Mini, for instance (from $29 with a three-year Rogers plan to $375 with no plan). With a 2.6-inch display, about the height and width of a credit card, it claims to be the world’s smallest Android phone. Unlike typical bulky smartphones, it is easily pocket or purse sized and easy to hold.

    Sony Ericsson modified Android to make it more usable on a small devices.

    The Mini lacks both a physical and a virtual QWERTY keyboard; like many not-so smartphones, you enter text using an alphanumeric keypad, in this case a virtual one. I found this a big drawback. Despite repeated tries, I was unable to correctly enter my email password and as a result was never able to set up the Mini to work with my email or calendar.

    Samsung, in contrast, has gone big. Its recently released Galaxy S Vibrant ($150 with a three-year Bell plan to $500) is built around a large four-inch display. Its 800x480 pixels is lower resolution but larger than the new iPhone 4’s 960x640 pixel 3.5-inch display, and the Vibrant’s Super AMOLED screen is one of the brightest available, making it more usable in bright sunlight.

    Like Sony Ericsson and other Android manufacturers (but unlike Apple), Samsung has built-in software to provide easy access to multiple social networks, in this case, Social Hub, which is also integrated with the phone’s contact list. And while Apple is touting its new model’s video chat feature, what it calls Face Time only works when you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. Bell offers the more widely usable Bell Video Calling on this and some other models.

    Currently, the Vibrant (on Bell’s HSPA network) is the only Galaxy S model available in Canada.

    Expect others – sharing the same perky processor and large, bright display – for the Telus and Rogers networks in the fall. • Favicon

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. Follow azisman on Twitter to receive regular notifications of these columns.  E-mail Alan
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